I have been reviewing long enough to remember a couple of the older HTPC or Mini-Tower cases that Lian Li brought forth in my time. Thinking back to cases like the PC-A series and PC-600F, they were still more like cases than the tiny boxes that quite a few of the later samples I've received. I also saw a few of the Mini-Q cases where I had started to see things like easy to pop on and off doors that no longer needed thumbscrews, ventilation and tunneling to allow good sized fans to work as intake as well as exhaust in tight spaces and the addition to having the option to have an optical drive mounted on the side rather than through the front bezel of these sleek designs.
As I looked to Lian Li to keep up to speed with what this chassis was all about, I noticed the mention of this being from the Magic-Box series of cases. I would assume this and the PC-V354 are both part of this group, but oddly there was no mention on that product page or any other page for that matter. At this point I would assume this to be the start of that chassis series and judging from what I have seen, the term Magic-Box is very appropriate for this design. Outside as well as internally, this latest submission has quite a few things that everyone will appreciate and only one major issue that needs some looking into in my opinion.
The chassis we are going to be looking at today is the PC-V355 Mini-Tower chassis from Lian Li. While the outside isn't anything radically new, it does offer an elegant approach to keeping things tidy and sleek on your desktop. We all know that with a Lian Li chassis, no matter the size, there is always the demand for top dollar investments to obtain one.
This one in my opinion isn't all that bad though, with pricing right in the range of a well equipped Mid-Tower chassis, but I can guarantee this one will look much better and have much less of an environmental foot print. All this while still giving you ample room to pack quite a bit of power into this area-challenged Mini-Tower.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The PC-V355 is classified as a mini tower since it is only just more than 11 inches wide, a little more than 10 and a quarter inches tall and is just longer than 15 inches deep. Like I said, this chassis definitely has a small foot print! The model I received is the black version of this all aluminum constructed chassis that has blunt corners, sleek edges and a very unexpectedly roomy interior, but more on that in a minute. The brushed aluminum exterior is folded at the top and bottom of the face, as well as the back end as both halves mate together near the rear of this chassis. The sides are straight and fit with 90 degree corners as well. On both of the flat side panels, you have the option to install an optical drive, so this chassis will naturally fit on either side of you in your office or at home.
Internally, from what I could see, there really is a lot going on in the PC-V355 chassis. There is a fan power hub near the pair of 120mm fans with dust filters that are the only supplied cooling with the chassis. Behind all of that there is a rack at the top that allows you to install the ODD on either side and just below it is a rack that will accept 3.5" hard drives, three in total. If you have a 2.5" drive, one can be hung from the bottom shelf of the 3.5" drive rack, too. With the entire front I/O wiring sitting on the floor near the front of the chassis, under the bays, the last thing to cover is the removable motherboard tray that will allow both Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards, has a decent amount of clearance for coolers to slide in with it and also houses the four expansion slots and vented covers.
There are a few limitations inside this chassis so I figured I would go over those. First we have the 100mm of CPU cooler; this is because of the rear of the chassis and what will go into the chassis on the motherboard tray. While the specs show you can house 210mm of PSU in here, I will advise closer to 185mm of PSU so you have the room to wire it, 210mm is max including PSU cabling. As for the VGAs, the HDD rack is shifted to one side, so you have a full 310mm of room for those.
The PC-V355 is very fresh to the market; in fact, with my Google search I was only able to locate it at two places. One of which is a local shop, AVA Direct, but due to local sales taxes, I will pass on that pricing in favor of old trusty. The one other place that I could easily find the PC-V355 was at Newegg and in both flavors. No matter if you like this chassis in natural or silver or the black version you are going to soon be looking at, they are both priced the same at $159.99 and will take an additional $10 to ship it currently.
I always have been a fan of "sleepers" or things that look ordinary, but when called to action to surprise the pants off whoever sees it with a ton of power in a completely unassuming chassis. I really think Lian Li is on the right path with this design.
The PC-V355 is displayed on a pretty plain background as not to detract from the sexiness of this chassis. With the left being taken up by that image and the chassis naming, there was only a thin strip on the right to run seven images down the length denoting key features.
On the right there are both the silver and black models topping the panel with a checkmark for the included model. Below that are six versions of the chassis specifications in condensed form.
Personally I would have left the front with just a chassis image and used large feature images here, but this also helps to keep the costs down so dollars are spent on the chassis and not the box. I would also like to thank the couriers for smashing the corner of this box for me, it adds character.
This side matches the opposing side of the packaging, even down to the languages covered in the six charts.
Inside the box you will find the PC-V355 front and rear enveloped in Styrofoam to make sure the chassis can take the hit we just saw and come out aces. Inside of the foam is a thick plastic liner that is taped to the bottom of the chassis to keep that brushed finish exactly like when it left the factory. As for the paperwork, well that is left floating about between the case and the liner.
Lian Li PC-V355-B Mini Tower Chassis
The front of the PC-V355 is quite the expanse of brushed aluminum with only the silver Lain Li logo above the strip of round holes for intake ventilation and the front I/O to break things up. At the bottom, very near the corners, there are large plastic feet with rubber pads that are accented in natural aluminum covers.
The front I/O panel offers you connectivity for the 3.5mm jacks of the microphone and headphones. Slightly right of that is the pair of Native USB 3.0 ports that are reverse compatible with an included adapter. Then of course we have the solitary power button with is round and also dressed in aluminum.
The left of the PC-V355 is very flat and the only thing worth mentioning other than these panels simply pull off is that the 5.25" bay is behind the brushed aluminum cover. At the rear of the side panel is a tab to get an easy grip on the panel for removal.
On the back of the chassis there is room for an optional 80mm fan next to the removable PSU mounting bracket. The bottom two-thirds of the back is taken up with the removable section connected to the motherboard tray including the rear I/O and four expansion slots.
I like a case with options and with the PC-V355 you can install the optical drive on this side of the chassis as well. No matter which side of you the PC-V355 is on, they make it convenient for the ODD placement on both sides.
Inside the PC-V355-B
Looking in from the left side of the chassis, you can see there is quite a bit of room looking back at you. The wiring is all tidy in the front and the hardware is strapped to the hard drive rack to keep the natural and anodized aluminum scratch free.
Removing five thumbscrews for the motherboard tray and four for the PSU bracket, they both come off and get out of the way. Preparations for the build are much easier with a removable tray and installing the PSU from the back is the only way to go in this case.
The first glance into the right side of the chassis shows me the fan at the left just above a fan switch that has three speed settings. You can also tell that the hard drive rack is shifted to this side of the interior to allow for video card clearance behind it.
Looking at the wiring in the front of the chassis, there is a power, HDD activity and power LED wire along with the Native USB 3.0 connector, a couple of Molex connections from the fan adapters on the 120mm fans and a Molex power connection for the fan hub behind the switch.
For the optical bays, the floor is a solid sheet of aluminium and the sides are cut to utilize Lian Li's famous rubber washer system to support them on the sides. To lock a device in one side or the other, there is an included thumbscrew for that purpose.
You have the option to install the optical drive in this side as well, but I wanted to point out the HDD rack. In it you can hold three 3.5" drives and under it one 2.5" drive. These also used the rubber washers and screws for mounting and there is a locking rail on the right side for the 3.5" drives.
This is the back of the three speed fan switch and you have the option to supply 12V to the PCB and with the switch, step down the voltage of up to three 3-pin fans. If you remove the adapters on the front fans, these do have 3-pin power connections and is what this is for.
Accessories and Documentation
Inside of the hardware box you will find a pair of white zip ties, a motherboard speaker and an extra clip for the side of the chassis in case one should break. On the bottom left there are four large washers for an optical drive and there are 17 smaller washers for the four hard drive options, plus one extra.
You will also get a bag containing thumbscrews for all of the hard drive with the silver-gold color. The one odd bluish screw is to secure the optical drive in place. The bag on the right is a mix of the PSU screws, ODD mounting screws and the motherboard screws.
This last bit of the kit will allow users without a Native USB 3.0 20-pin header on their boards to use this and adapt the 20-pin down to a 9-pin USB 2.0 configuration.
As with anything Lian Li I have received up to now, there is the accessories and goodies sheet. This has just about every adapter, lighting option, really anything you can think to want, that Lian Li will sell you to go along with your case and match perfectly.
There are two parts of the manual. The left section covers English and three other languages, while the insert on the right covers the same information in two others. What you will find are good images, even if in black and white and the text definitely helps along with the parts list to make sure you have everything right to build the PC-V355 in almost modular chunks.
The Build and Finished Product
Knowing I had limited room, I grabbed my Micro-ATX board, the low profile cooler and a single video card. I would have run SLI, but I need a fifth expansion slot with this board. At this stage everything is going great and there is nothing unusual to speak of.
I went ahead and stuck the aluminum mounting plate for the PSU to the back of this 750W unit. Overkill much? Yes, but I want to test something out!
A bit more prep with a few screws and some rubber washers and the optical drive and hard drive are now ready to be slid into place. I also added the thumbscrew that you will be using the secure the drive so it doesn't move in and out of the cases side panel.
Optical drive installed; check! But this is where I ran into a bit of confusion as to what to do with the drive once I had it in the rack.
Since the bottom is solid and the sides of the 5.25" bays are cut too thin, that only leaves behind the other bay cover to run the wiring. That is plenty of space and all, but I found the wires hit the cover and made it catawampus in the side panel. I think a large slot in the floor of the bays would have been a more viable solution.
The hard drive slides easily into the rack. Once the drive is in place, lock it on with the slide on the right and tighten the thumbscrew.
I removed the 3-pin to 4-pin Molex adapters off of the pair of 120mm intake fans and added them to two of the three power points on the back of the fan switch. This not only keeps the front looking clean, it keeps connections down to only one Molex connection to power everything in the cooling system.
Now all I have to so is slide in the motherboard tray and begin wiring things so I can get to the testing.
The Build and Finished Product Continued
The Build and Finished Product Continued
Or so I thought! While I was positively under the 100mm height clearance I didn't even think of the width of the cooler. The nice thing about using this cooler in instances like these though, is that it has three other mounting options for me to try.
Getting ready to now close up shop and see what the chassis does in sound levels and heat levels, we see that the front of the PC-V355 takes on no changes, except a bit of oil from my skin, as these aluminum cases are very well known to do.
Everything is wired nice and easily even with the motherboard in the chassis during the process. What does worry me a bit is the PSU. I used a large one to test out the strength and you can see it is failing. When I lift or let lose the PSU, you can see the top and back of the chassis flexing under the weight of this unit.
In the back the PSU did align great, even if the mounting area is a bit weak for heavier units. As for the rear I/O shield, the card and the motherboard tray, they all went is without issue, it was my lack of foresight that led to the cooler issue.
With everything now ready to go, you can see the 8-pin EPS cable lies nicely and out of the way as well as does the Molex run across the front. There is quite a bit of room above the CPU cooler and if you don't mind the noise, an additional fan here would definitely help things.
Stepping back a bit you can now see the PC-V355 in all its glory, with the left now holding the optical drive. The doors snap back into place very securely with the pins and latch system in place here.
Adding power to the PC-V355 the power button stayed lit with the blue backlighting. I know I hooked up a HDD activity connector, but I never saw anything change or flash denoting the drive was booted. In the end you are left with the same sleek looking, brushed aluminum goodness that we started with.
With everything said and done, I am a bit torn here. While I really liked the looks, the layout, the features and the options, a couple of things make me want to knock the scoring down a peg or two. First off, to me if you are offering a chassis that can hold a 210mm long PSU, you should also account for the weight. While I am sure that the PSU isn't going to fall onto my motherboard, it pains me to see the case scream in pain as it flexes to take the weight of the power supply. The second thing that may not be an issue is if your PSU has flat cabling, but with the round braided cables I have, connecting the optical drive made the drive cover move causing alignment issues with the door panels placement. Even if I got the panel on, the pressure from the wire on the bay cover made it off center and look funny.
With my mini rant over, there are lots of good things to discuss. This is the first of these small form factor cases I have seen with this internal layout and I liked what I saw. The right or left option of the optical device is handy and gives you options as to which side of the desk to use for it. The offset hard drive rack that uses the washers for easy installation and the slide lock to secure them is not only very structurally sound, but it is cut to allow the 120mm fan in front of it to blow air through if the slots aren't all populated. On the other side of the hard drive rack, the 120mm fan there has free range to blow right past the video card and CPU and out of the back of this chassis. The best thing I like is the removable motherboard tray. Any case with one of these, as long as it is designed right, is a very handy addition and I have to say for the size of this chassis the room afforded on the tray is very good for its size.
During the testing I played with the fan switch and gauged the noise levels as well as leaving things run for a bit to see if the case got saturated with heat. Since there are two 120mm fans blowing in and really only the mesh area for an 80mm fan to let air out, it leaves the PC-V355 with a positive pressure inside and the air will find its way out of all of the seams and gaps between panels and such. Since the fans have twist off and washable fan filters, dust levels on the interior should be next to nil if maintained over the long term of its use. Temperatures were slightly above the average, but keep in mind this is against full towers for comparison. For the size of the chassis, what I put in there and tested and the lack of an exhaust fan, I think the PC-V355 performed admirably to the overclocked conditions of the system and would allow me hours of worry free gaming time.
Here comes the hard part and I guess now is as good a time as ever to say this. While I like the overall design, layout and ideas behind the PC-V355, I would feel bad recommending a case that a mid-range PSU looks like it will collapse or the one way only of wiring the ODD bays. I think this chassis with those two things tended to would completely get me behind Lain Li and the PC-V355. It is just a hard pill to swallow, since they had finally taken steps to wire manage and new ways to mount hard drives, as well as coming up with some really radical designs like the train chassis at Computex.
It's just with the PC-V355 you pay as much as all of the other Lian Li solutions cost, but this time it isn't quite up to what I expect to see from a company like Lian Li who was always one with an eye on details and offered some of the most elegant and structurally sound designs.
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